How to Select the Right Digital Marketing Agency to Support In-House Teams
1. How to Select the Right Digital Marketing Agency
to Support Your In-House Teams
The marketing function is often considered a cost-centre, rather than a value-
adding function due to a general lack of understanding of how marketing
contributes to business results by executives outside of the marketing function.
This is further complicated by a lack of transparency in how marketing activities
actually contribute to revenue growth.
The wrong decision about which digital marketing agency you should hire can
result in the loss of revenue, shrinking of your customer base and tangible damage
to your brand reputation. As an in-house CMO, Performance Marketing Director,
Head of Search, Marketing Manager, small business owner or entrepreneur, there
comes a time when you have to look to engage with a digital marketing agency or
review existing agencies on your books. If you often ask yourself the question:
‘What do I do now?’ with regards to your digital marketing activities, read on for
some myth-busting clarifications you can start implementing immediately to make
a difference to your bottom line.
Broadly speaking, the agency hiring process will flow along the following
Research & review: Create a shortlist of agencies and freelance digital marketing
consultants who might be able to offer the services you need.
Initial introductory phone interview: Reach out via phone or email to
introduce your company to the agency or consultant and request a virtual demo
to help you understand their service offerings. You can also invite them to your
office for a presentation tailored to your requirements.
Presentation: Request that the presentation be delivered by the agency staff
that will be working on your campaigns as opposed to a sales presentation.
Decision: Review the profile of the agency staff with your in-house HR team to
confirm the skill levels across the agency. Making the wrong decision about which
agency to hire will have a direct negative impact on your bottom line.
2. Here are some questions to consider during this process:
#1 What services do we need?
Start by evaluating the cost of hiring a full-time employee with agency experience
to build your own internal capability. If you are lucky, you will find highly skilled
and motivated candidates with agency backgrounds and entice them with a salary
that will cost you a fraction of what you would pay for hiring an agency. The
recruitment and development process of agency staff is more sophisticated and
cost effective than in-house teams, while some will argue that the motivation level
is equally higher. If truth be told, agencies hire inexperienced, young and
experience-hungry interns and onboard them via intensive training and
mentorship programs to develop the skills required to execute a wide range of
client campaign tasks. The absence of in-house subject matter experts in SEO,
CRO, web analytics is one of the reasons companies hire digital marketing
agencies. The perception that agency staff have more experience than in-house
team is, however, a misconception. The question then arises whether or not you
should outsource all the services needed to a digital agency as opposed to building
an internal team of your own and keeping everything in-house. Before you hire
an agency you might want to explore hiring a freelance digital marketing
consultant on a one-off or a rolling contract to support your in-house team. Before
deciding to hire an agency its important to clarify the gap in your team that an
agency can fulfil. Waste of marketing budget happens when the agency service is
duplicating existing skills within your team as opposed to filling in a gap. There is
also the option of a hybrid model that integrates in-house teams and agency staff
or a freelance digital marketing consultant working as a cross-functional Agile
#2 What services can the agency provide?
An agency normally fits into one of two categories – ‘full-service’ or ‘single
service’. Agencies provide broad industry experience, innovation, flexibility,
highly motivated T-shaped skills due to planned staff development and systematic
peer review of campaign performance. The other side of the coin is the fact that
agency staff are always multitasking across multiple client work which makes
prioritization difficult. This, in turn, reduces the quality of output and outcome. An
in-house marketing person focuses on a single client and develops industry-
3. specific expertise to become effective, which is not always on offer with agency
staff. Furthermore, the siloed structure of internal agency teams can often reduce
cross-functional collaboration and further complicate situations that require this
kind of collaboration. Some agency services are too focused on a single stage of
the customer journey, like acquisition, and these agencies provide channel-
specific services around SEO, PPC, CRO, Web Analytics and Social Media
marketing. Some agencies provide PPC or SEO services alone, so if you hire these
agencies you will need to hire yet another agency or a freelance consultant to
complement their services if and when the need arises. Under a single roof, full-
service agencies provide consultancy services across a combination of multiple
marketing channels like SEO, PPC, UX, CRO, Analytics, Neuromarketing, Content,
Web Design, Online reputation management and PR. You need to identify which
agency or mix of agencies will help you increase your business revenue, depending
on your specific needs.
#3 Are there any alternative providers?
You have the option of hiring a freelance digital marketing consultant instead of
an agency, as this would be a more cost-effective option. Freelance consultants
often have more practical, hands-on experience than the interns agencies widely
use to execute client tasks. For example, big agencies can charge in excess of
£1000 per day for their SEO services, while a freelance consultant’s fee is much
less than this. Agencies also often subcontract actual campaign work to freelance
digital marketing consultants, if and when they dont have the resources required
to fully meet all clients expectations, so it’s more than likely a freelancer will be
working on your campaign even if you do, in the end, decide to hire an agency.
#4 Who will I communicate with within the agency?
To understand who you will communicate with it is important to understand how
agencies are structured. From an agency perspective, the Client (or Account)
Director manages communications with clients while the SEO/PPC Executive is
responsible for actual work being carried out. Sometimes a Client Director
manages around 10 to 20 clients, while an SEO/PPC Executive works on a
minimum of 4 clients at a time. Communications sometimes go through the SEO
Executive who reports into a Manager who reports into an SEO Director before the
information gets channelled through the Client Director to the client. From a cost
4. perspective, would you rather work with an agency with multiple communication
loops or hire a single freelance digital marketing consultant?
#5 What should I monitor?
The location of an agency or freelance digital marketing consultant should not
impact on how you manage and monitor expected deliverables. Some agencies
provide the option of agency staff or the freelancer hot-desking on-site with the
client a few days per month, while some invite clients for regular visits to their
office locations. Depending on your budget, you also have the option of requesting
to have someone from the agency onsite with your in-house teams for the duration
of the campaign. Request clarification on the collaboration software tools the
agency use for existing clients and confirm how this fits with your in-house team’s
process and structure. You can explore the option of hiring a freelance digital
marketing consultant, which could be a good alternative if you cannot find an
agency that will fulfil your requirement for on-site staff to work with your in-house
teams. These freelance digital marketing consultants can provide important cover
to fill vacancies when senior members of your in-house team leave. The next step
is to clarify whether or not the agency fully understands your business: you would
be surprised about the template approach some agencies adopt with their clients.
Clarify how the agency plans to measure performance from a revenue and brand
equity perspective: do they have web analytics capabilities which combine both
qualitative and qualitative insights? How you monitor the performance of your
agency will depend on your in-house team and the mix of subject matter experts
available to you. Some agencies prioritise the work of the client that shouts the
loudest, which results in reduced time allocations towards less vocal or less
#6 How long should a contract be?
Start the conversation by clarifying how long the agency needs before their
services start impacting your bottom line. Some organisations make the mistake
of signing up to fixed-term agency contracts lasting multiple years, while others
engage in 12 months rolling contract with a 3-month termination clause. Freelance
digital marketing consultants often offer greater flexibility by working on 1-, 2-,
or 3-month rolling contracts, with much shorter termination periods (usually 1 or
2 weeks). The option you choose should depend on your internal team structure
5. and the percentage of employee turnover, as well as how much flexibility you
#7 How will I know they are doing what they are supposed to?
If you fail to establish clearly defined deliverables and KPIs, there is always the
risk that your digital marketing agency will focus on less value-adding activities
that make them look dedicated, busy and successful. Metrics that align with
increasing revenue are the only way to know your agency are doing what they are
supposed to be doing. Ensure your agency provides you with a detailed
clarification on how they intend to report on tasks executed and the impact of
these on your revenue growth.
#8 How do I protect my investment (time and money)?
In order to protect the time and money you have invested, clarify or re-negotiate
the terms with the agency every time there is a change in the team, for example
if A-players working on your account leave the agency, or new members join the
team. Understanding how some agencies waste money and time is the first step
towards protecting your marketing budget from being portrayed as a cost centre
by your CFO or accounts department. Agencies sometimes hire fresh graduates
and train them up before assigning them to client accounts which is cost-effective
from their perspective, but might not necessarily in the best interest of the client.
Ensuring that the person working on your website or campaign has the relevant
#9 What industry-relevant certifications and accreditations do people on
their team have?
Don’t be afraid to ask how the agency’s internal teams collaborate. Do they have
specialists in each marketing channel, or are their skill-sets broader? Fluffy awards
like “Best Agency of the Year” sound good, but this does not confirm capabilities
and skills required for a specific campaign from the client perspective. Industry
recognised training certifications in SEO, PPC and other channels are one way of
measuring the level of experience of individuals on the agency team. Evaluate the
experience levels of the agency team responsible for the actual work on your
6. website or marketing campaign. Some agencies allocate majority of the tasks to
interns or executives with less than 6-12 months experience, while others offer a
stronger supervision and direction to their junior staff. Considering the size of the
investment involved with hiring an agency, so it’s always good to be aware of
exactly who is working on your account and what experience they have.
#10 What kind of campaigns has the agency done already focused on B2B,
Ecommerce or publication websites?
The bulk of digital marketing agencies are focussed on top-of-the-funnel activities,
as opposed to optimising the entire customer journey. This is evident because of
the limited availability of agencies that focus on website conversion optimisation
as part of their offering. Some agencies are B2C focused which limits their
experience of B2B marketing which has a long purchase decision process and
requires alignment with sales teams.
#11 What mix of clients does the agency currently have on their books?
Not all experiences are applicable to every client. For instance, an SEO agency
with a reputable clientele in Ecommerce will not necessarily have the experience
needed for a B2B complex sales client. It is also possible for an agency to already
be working for your direct and indirect competitors. If this is not the case already,
then what is the guarantee that they won't work with you, gather valuable insights
into your business and then use these insights to compete with you in future. The
scenario also applies to people working for you in-house, which is totally out of
#12 What budget range do they currently manage?
Big agencies will only work with multinational clients with huge budgets, while
small- to medium-sized agencies work with mid-tier clients and SMEs. The budget
size does not necessarily reflect the quality of services or value delivered by the
agency and bigger agencies will normally require larger budgets, so even for
multinational companies they might not be the most cost-effective option, both in
terms of their cost structure and in terms of the level of bureaucracy in the
decision-making process, which can delay the implementation of campaigns.
7. Small agencies or freelance digital marketing consultants can provide speed,
flexibility and agility required to get fast results from your digital marketing
#13 What is the composition of their Martech stack?
Some agencies whitelabel existing generic digital marketing tools with their own
branding and charge clients extortionate prices for using these in their campaigns.
Beta access to new features and functionalities is another scheme agencies often
use to discourage clients for subscribing to these tools directly. The cost-effective
solution to clients is to understand the right mix of marketing technology tools
they need with a clear appreciation that a ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’. You
cannot replace people with tools, so you will still need expert marketing
technologists on your team to help you harness the full potential of all the tools
you choose to have in your martech stack. It is, therefore, useful to understand
the skill set of the team, in addition to the martech stack they are proposing to
#14 Does the agency’s fee structure link to results?
The short answer is - shockingly - not usually! Agencies can charge fees of up to
15-20% of a client’s overall ad spend for Google ads, regardless of results and
this is not always in the best interest of the clients. In other words, whether or
not you see any return from your digital advertising spend, the agency will still
collect their fee at the end of each month. To protect your investment, you must
negotiate with your agency a requirement (contractual or otherwise) to provide a
clear link between the ad spend and your revenue growth in order to ensure fiscal
responsibility, accountability and avoid wastage.
Wrong questions to ask a digital marketing agency
• Do you have an official partnership with top search engines?
• Do you work with freelance contractors?
• Have you won any awards?
• Have you got any case studies we can review?
8. • Can we have a long-term contract? Make sure your contractual break clause
is a maximum of 30 days.
Some other things to consider before hiring a digital marketing
agency or a freelance digital marketing consultant:
Hiring a marketing agency can help save costs - but not necessarily...
Agency pricing model is structured on an hourly, daily, monthly, project or retainer
basis. It is sometimes cost-effective to hire and pay agencies on a project-by-
project basis to support in-house team’s workload or to buy in specialist skills that
you do not otherwise need in your marketing activities. The skill requirements for
agency and in-house teams are exactly the same, despite the long-held
misconception that agency staff have broader experience across industries. The
downside is that agency staff are often over-worked, with frequent switching
between different clients’ campaigns, which can reduce the quality of work
delivered to clients.
Outside help means an outside perspective
Agencies and freelance digital marketing consultants with T-shaped skills across
multiple marketing channels can help your business grow because they can
provide an outside-in perspective. Your in-house teams have the tendency of
developing blind spots from a strategy planning and execution perspective and a
fresh look on the existing situation - however short- or long-term it might be - will
always add value.
Marketing agencies know the latest technology:
Marketing technology tools are easily available to both agencies and in-house
teams, so this is not really a reason that should heavily feature in your decision
to hire an agency (or not).
Agency provides you a dedicated team, but...
9. Agencies create dedicated teams to work across multiple clients, which means it's
not cost-effective for agency staff to work on a single dedicated client. This means
less time spent on your campaigns than you might expect or feel appropriate.
Agencies are often considered experts across the board, eliminating your need for
internal training and upskilling. However, although full-service agencies foster
diversified skill sets across marketing channels, internal agency teams are often
siloed with limited interactions. This would, however, eliminate your need for in-
house training and upskilling, at least in the short- to – medium-term.
You can keep up with the latest marketing trends
Latest marketing trends are often published on industry websites and are
accessible to both agency staff and your in-house teams. You don’t need to have
a formalised relationship with an agency in order to keep on top of what is going
on in the industry.
So, what should you do?
Hiring a digital marketing agency doesn't have to be expensive or lead to wasted
marketing budget if the selection and review process are detailed and well-
structured. Hiring a T-shaped freelance digital marketing consultant with skills and
experience across digital marketing channels is often a more cost-effective and
flexible option. By doing so you avoid indirectly paying for agency overheads
because freelance consultants can work on-site with your in-house team. If you
do decide to work with an agency, I recommend also working with a digital
marketing consultant as a neutral third party on an ad hoc basis to get their expert
advice during the agency selection process. This will give you access to an
unbiased opinion of how suitable the agency you are considering to hire is likely
to fit with your organisational structure, culture and direction.
10. You always also have the option of developing your in-house skills and capabilities
to eliminate reliance on an agency, which is a sensible long-term strategy. This,
however, requires more time and some strategic marketing expertise in order to
identify the skill sets you should recruit for. This is again something an ad hoc
Agile Marketing Coach can advise on for a fraction of the standard agency fee.
Another option is adopting a hybrid model where agency staff are merely an
extension of your in-house team in a complementary capacity, supplementing the
skills of your staff with specialisms needed for a specific campaign. Whatever your
digital marketing needs, there is more than one choice out there and there are
people who can help you decide which direction is most suited for your business
If you want to learn more about Agile marketing, please visit my website
https://www.cxconversion.com/. If you need assistance developing a hybrid
model, or ad hoc consultancy to support your specialist digital marketing agency
selection efforts, please contact me via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or
phone on +447568091722.